This weekend is a special time of remembrance for the Christian faith. It is the time where we reflect on the crucifixion and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In light of that it’s a good idea to remember what makes this particular trial and execution so significant – significant enough to alter the history of mankind. Although scoffers try to claim Jesus never existed and that this never happened, we know from other ancient documents outside of the Bible that Jesus did exist and was crucified. In the writings of Tacitus, a Roman historian writing from AD 56 to 117, he relates this about Jesus: “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 Pilate.” The historical accounts from Tacitus and other ancient texts confirm that this Jesus was a real person who was crucified by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius.
But if this Jesus who is called the Christ were just a man, what significance would there be in his execution? Why would this be noteworthy to Tacitus, or to history in general? It wasn’t just because he was an innocent man. If Jesus were just an innocent man, convicted and executed for a crime he did not commit, then his execution would be shameful and sad. But that would not really matter to the rest of the world. So one may say it was significant because of the reason behind his execution. Jesus was not convicted for something He did but for who He claimed to be. He claimed to be God which the High-Priest determined to be blasphemy punishable by death. (Although under Jewish law it would have been death by stoning. But since the Jews were under Roman authority at the time, the punishment was crucifixion).
However, in studying Acts 5, we see that even that was nothing of importance. Gamaliel, the well-respected Pharisee, said that many had claimed to be the Messiah and thus sealed their fate to be executed as a blasphemer. A man named Theudas made that claim and even had 400 followers. When he was executed, his disciples scattered; and it came to nothing. Then Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census with many followers. When he was executed, his many followers dispersed; and it came to nothing.
So why is it that we remember the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth? Because of what happened after His execution. See, when Theudas and Judas of Galilee were executed for claiming to be the Messiah, their followers scattered. Why? Because their leader, a mere mortal man, was now dead. But when Jesus of Nazareth was crucified for claiming to be the Messiah, He died and was buried. But He did not stay that way. He resurrected. And his followers did not scatter and disperse; they became bolder. They traveled far and wide preaching in the name of this Jesus of Nazareth – and they did so in the face of intense persecution. As Gamaliel had predicted, this was the evidence that this incident with Jesus was not like the others. When the Jewish council was debating what to do with Peter and John who were still preaching the name of Jesus, Gamaliel advised, “So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”
For Gamaliel, it was the after effects of the crucifixion that would prove whether this thing was from God or man. So it is the response to this claim of the resurrection that gives us the evidence of its truth. Consider the responses of those who loved and followed Jesus. The disciples’ response to the news of the empty tomb at first was skepticism – until they saw it for themselves. They were in hiding, mourning the loss of their beloved Messiah and fearing their own fate at the hands of the Pharisees. But once they witnessed the resurrection, their focus changed from their own security to the urgency of sharing the Gospel of salvation. The truth of what they had seen with their own eyes and touched with their own hands made a drastic impact on their lives. And they devoted the remainder of their lives sharing that good news of the resurrection to others around the world.
But the news of the resurrection also impacted those who were not followers of Jesus. His ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection were all done publicly, out in the open for friend and foe to see. Peter reminds the Jewish people of that in his first sermon delivered at Pentecost. He said, ““Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” Peter spoke on these things again after healing the lame man on the temple steps: “whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” As Paul would say later, those things were “not done in a corner.” All of those people had seen the work Jesus had done, His miracles, His power over sickness, nature, and demons. They had all witnessed, no, not just witnessed, but participated in his crucifixion. They had all cried out, “Give us Barabbas!” They had jeered and mocked Him at His death. And they had witnessed His resurrection.
The response to note here though is that of the Pharisees to Peter’s statements. Did they say to the crowds that Peter and John were just as crazy as Jesus? Did they go to the tomb and produce the body of Jesus to shut them up? No. It says they were astonished at Peter and John’s boldness and wisdom – until they recognized they had been with Jesus. The Pharisees were unable to refute that the lame man had been healed in the name of Jesus. And they were afraid of the spread of Jesus’ name. The response of the Pharisees shows us the veracity of the claims made by Peter and John. They could not refute the power done in the name of Jesus. And they could not refute the claims of the resurrection. They could only make futile attempts to stop the spread of these things.
The reaction of Paul to the resurrection gives evidence of its occurrence as well. Paul’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus drastically changed his life. It changed him from persecuting those who claimed the name of Jesus to being persecuted for proclaiming the name of Jesus. He changed from speaking against Jesus to speaking for Jesus. He went from being feared by the other apostles to being accepted into their fellowship. He transformed from a Jewish Pharisee despising Gentiles to the apostle preaching salvation to the Gentiles. Paul himself credited such a complete transformation to the one event of meeting the resurrected Jesus. To change that much from one event tells us that event did occur.
There is also the reaction of James, the brother of Jesus, who was not a disciple or follower of Jesus. In fact, none of His brothers believed (John 7:5). They even tried to pull Jesus out of ministering to the crowds when the crowds became too great (Mark 3). Their unbelief is quite astonishing when you consider the testimony of their mother as to the conception of Jesus! Not much else is said about the family of Jesus throughout the Gospel accounts. However, the next time we see James he is presiding over the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. James led the other apostles in determining the guidelines for new believing Gentiles. He became the leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 21). Paul referred to James as an apostle in his letter to Galatia. And James was eventually martyred for his faith by the Jewish leaders there in Jerusalem.
What would have caused such a difference? How did James grow up in the same house as Jesus, witnessing His ministry from the very beginning, and not believe, yet after Jesus’ crucifixion he became the leader of the church in Jerusalem, even dying for his belief? For that answer we go to 1 Corinthians 15:7. Paul reminded the Corinthians of the core doctrinal truths of Christianity that he had already taught them: that Christ died for our sins; that he was buried and raised again; and that many witnessed His resurrection. But look at the list of names that Paul provided who saw the resurrection. Jesus appeared to Peter, the twelve disciples, more than 500 at once, James, the apostles, and Paul himself. Jesus specifically appeared to His unbelieving brother James. So the drastic change in the life of James is directly attributed to his witness of the resurrected Jesus.
The reactions of friend and foe is what gives us, far removed in time and place, the confidence that it did indeed occur. It is the reaction to any historical even that confirms its veracity. For example, even if we didn’t have a single document remaining from the Revolutionary War, we know what truly happened because we have evidence of the reaction to it – the United States is functioning as a separate nation from England. Likewise, the ongoing reactions of both friend and foe to the resurrection of Jesus give us the confirmation that it really occurred. And the importance of that fact cannot be stated enough. It is the resurrection of Jesus that affirms His deity. It is that resurrection that conquers sin and death for those who believe.
Without the resurrection, our faith is meaningless. But with the resurrection comes eternal hope and salvation for all mankind. This is how those living alongside Jesus reacted to the resurrection. What will your reaction be?
 Tacitus, Annals 15.44
All scripture quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV)
Since the very beginning of time itself, the battle has not been between good and evil but between humility and pride. When we read in Isaiah 14 about the fall of Lucifer (aka Satan, the deceiver, the father of lies, and the ruler of darkness) we know that it all started with his pride. He said in his heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High.” It all started because he wanted to be more powerful and more exalted than God. It was pride. And that pride was therefore, his destruction. Lucifer was cast out and destroyed because, though he was full of wisdom and beauty, he was corrupted by his pride (Ezekiel 28).
Lucifer knew that the easiest way to draw people away from God was to tempt them in their pride. It was his method to attack the crowning jewel of God’s creation – mankind. He used the temptation of pride to draw Eve away from her direct fellowship with God in the Garden of Eden. He started with making her question God’s commands. “Did God really say?” Satan made Eve consider whether God’s commands allowed for wiggle room. Did He really say that was forbidden? Maybe you misunderstood Him. Or maybe He said that but really meant something else (do we ever do that with God’s commands?). And Satan, as the father of lies, led the discussion with a lie about what God had actually commanded. Satan asked if God had forbidden them to eat of every tree, knowing it was just one particular tree. Then the lies continued. He wanted Eve to doubt God’s goodness. It was out of God’s goodness to protect Eve that He commanded them to not eat of that tree – so that she would not die. But Satan said that wasn't true. He called God the liar in order to make Eve question God’s purpose in His command. Then Satan added to his lie this little enticement for her pride. Satan said that instead of dying by eating the fruit, she would be like God. He wanted Eve to desire herself over God. He tempted her in her pride. Would she be willing to humbly submit to God's command or would she want to elevate herself? It’s exactly the concept that led to Lucifer’s fall and destruction; he wanted to be like God. It was that pride to be like God that, as Proverbs 16:18 says, led her to destruction. It was that pride that led to the destruction of all mankind.
Pride. It’s at the root of everything we do. We label movements and marches as taking "pride" in something; take pride in who you are; take pride in whatever it is that you are doing, whether it's good or bad. But pride is really the starting point of every sin we commit. Sometimes it's obvious but sometimes we don't even recognize it as pride. It is so subtle yet it is there even in the "good" things we do. We let it seep into our hearts without even knowing it. We tell ourselves that we are not overly prideful people; we don’t mind helping others and serving others. But as C.S. Lewis said, "If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed." So think about the subtlety of pride in how we even read scripture. Consider how you read Romans 14. Paul is talking about not judging a “weaker” brother who is convicted about not eating certain things or the one who is convicted about honoring certain days over others. He starts by saying, “Receive one who is weak in the faith.” Do you ever consider yourself to be the one who is weak in faith? Of course not. We always think of someone else in that case. We tend to identify with the “strong” in faith, even if we’re not. We never associate ourselves as being the weaker brother but only as the stronger one. In our minds we always think of someone else to serve as the example of the “weaker” brother, never considering that maybe it is yourself who is weak. It’s the same concept in Ephesians 4:14-16. Paul says that we should grow in our faith, no longer being “children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” But we always think of ourselves as mature and others as children. Because of pride. Someone might in that very moment be swayed and tossed about by false doctrine because of their immature faith, yet they will stand there and read that scripture pointing to others as “weak” or “children” of the faith and not themselves. Because of pride.
Look closely at 1 Thessalonians 5:14. Paul gives some commands to the believers there in Thessalonica. He says to warn the unruly, comfort the fainthearted, and uphold the weak. I’m sure you thought of several people you know that would classify as each of those. But where did you put yourself? We never consider that we might be the unruly, we may be the ones in fear and doubt, or that we may be the one of weak faith. Nope, our pride tells us that those adjectives all belong to someone else. In doing that, we get to point fingers at other people; how they need to mature; how they need to grow in faith; how they need to stop being unruly, or fearful, or weak. We never consider that as a description of our own faith calling us to grow and mature. Because of pride.
Pride is not only what prevents us from growing in the faith by blinding us to the reality of our own faith condition, but it is what prevents us from finding faith in the first place. It is out of pride that we think we are good enough to merit our salvation. It is from pride that we falsely believe we could ever be “good enough” to earn God’s favor. We have to come to an understanding that we are hopelessly, horribly lost in our sin – every single one of us. But our pride tells us “you’re not that bad” or “you’re a pretty good person.” But God’s standard is not being “pretty good” or “not that bad.” His standard is perfection. His standard is to have no sin at all. I heard it put so perfectly by Pastor James Roberson from the Bridge Church in Brooklyn, NY. How can we possibly think we adhere to God’s standard when we don’t even adhere to our own? None of us even act the way we think we should act, much less how God thinks we should act. We can’t even follow the advice we give others or heed the admonitions from our own earthly parents. What makes us think we can possibly pass the standard of perfect holiness as required from a perfect, holy, and just God? We constantly talk about our “rights” and what we “deserve.” Consider what we really deserve from the almighty God creator who will one day judge all of earth. For every lie you’ve told, every seed of anger, every fleeting moment of jealousy in your heart we deserve judgment. We deserve nothing. Actually we deserve worse than nothing. We deserve to be cast out from the presence of God forever. But He gives us mercy, withdrawing a judgment that we deserve. And He gives us grace, rewarding us with a blessing that we didn’t earn.
Yet we dare to stand in our pride and demand God accept us without any contrition of heart and, for some, without any acknowledgement of His existence at all. And again, the battle is between pride and humility. Will you humble yourself before God and acknowledge that you don’t deserve His mercy? Will you put aside your pride to see that you can’t merit salvation on your own good works to accept the undeserving gift of grace He has given? Jesus paints this very picture of the battle between pride and humility as He is facing the cross. And here in a different garden than Eve’s, we find a different outcome of this same struggle and temptation. In the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His betrayal, He is praying for there to be another way, but He humbly submits to the will of God to go forward to His death on the cross. Even knowing death could not hold Him, He was still praying for there to be another way. But He prayed in humility to yield Himself up for God – and for you. Throughout that night there were moments that if given over to pride Jesus could have made a very different end to the story. After Peter had cut off the ear of the solider coming for Jesus’ arrest, Jesus said to him, “Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” Out of pride for Himself, Jesus could have done that, but He humbly allowed the soldiers to arrest Him. At any moment during His trial while the soldiers struck Him and mocked Him, Jesus out of pride could have called down those angels and demonstrated His full power and deity. He could have prophesied not just who struck Him but everything about those who struck Him. But He humbly stood silent, submitting to the will of God. As He hung on the cross, the soldiers and Pharisees mocked Him and dared Him to save Himself. Out of pride He could have saved Himself from the cross and destroyed those who mocked Him. But in His humility, He gave up His spirit into the Father’s hand.
Pride vs. humility. Jesus, the only one who has a right to be proud because He is the perfect Son of God, humbly submitted Himself to God’s authority. Yet man, who has no right to make demands because he is covered over in sin, stands in pride shaking his fist at God as though he deserves something more. But man has the opportunity in humility to acknowledge his sin and seek forgiveness to gain mercy that he doesn’t deserve and receive grace which he did not earn. Pride vs. humility. Which choice will you make?
How do you feel about the word doctrine? What about the word theology? Doctrine is defined as “a principle or position or the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief.” Theology is the study of God and His relation to the world. To folks today both of those sound pretty boring. Principles? Studying god? System of belief? Who cares as long as I feel something during worship? Why study about God when I sense His presence? Can’t we just be led by the Spirit without having to drag it down with doctrine, study, principles, and theology? The resounding answer to each of those questions is no. Absolutely not.
John 4:21-24 talks about how the true worshipers will worship God in spirit AND in truth. Why must it be both? Because if you are not worshiping in truth then you are worshiping a god of your own creation. You are worshiping what you want God to be and how you want God to relate to you. And that most likely is a false god. Charles Spurgeon once said, “I believe that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of the child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.” The most important thing you can do is study God. If you are going to devote your life to Him and worship Him, then you ought to know whom it is you are worshiping!
There are many examples in the Bible where the people are indeed worshiping in their “spirit” but certainly not in truth. But one of the clearest illustrations of where that leads is found in Exodus 32. Most of you are familiar with the general description of the story; it is where the Israelites have decided to make for themselves a golden calf to worship while Moses is still on the mountain with God. The last thing the Israelites had done (in Exodus 24) was commit to following the Lord and being obedient to Him. They participated in a ceremony of sacrifices and offerings committing themselves to this covenant. Moses, his aids, and the elders then witnessed the very glory of the presence of God. God’s presence covered the mountain like a cloud and His glory was like a consuming fire. But the people got impatient. In only a month’s time, they decided to make a god for themselves who would lead them. So Aaron, the future first High-Priest of the Israelites, gathers their jewelry, melts it down, and forms with an engraving tool a golden calf. They declared that to be their god – as the one who had led them out of Egypt!
Aaron announced that they would have a feast and offerings unto the Lord. They built an altar, made a feast to the Lord, and “rose up to play.” This phrase includes drunken and sexually immoral activities that went along with pagan worship. Yet they were doing this "to the Lord"? The Israelites not only made a false idol but were mixing false idol worship with worship to the true God (also known as syncretism). What an insult to the true God! Even if Aaron thought they were simply adding this golden calf to their worship of God, he was still violating the commands of God to have no other gods besides Him. You can’t add something to God and think that is ok. This shows us how important it is to worship in spirit and in truth. We might think, well, hey they were still worshiping, right? But that was not worshiping in truth. And worshiping in something other than the truth is idol worship. It makes a mockery of God. And God's response, had Moses not pleaded for mercy, was to destroy them for their sin. His wrath burned hot against them, and He was going to consume them. It shows us how serious this sin was. Sometimes it seems impossible that so soon after receiving the commandments and revelation of God that the Israelites could sink so low to mold a golden idol for themselves. But the Christian experience today is oftentimes the same. It might reveal something of the superficial nature of one’s faith how quickly they turn away from the truth. How often do we think we can set aside truth, that boring thing called doctrine and theology, to just worship in spirit? But it is our doctrine and theology that makes our worship in the spirit either honoring or dishonoring to God.
Because Moses delayed in those 40 days on the mountain with God, the Israelites abandoned the God who had rescued them, provided for them, sheltered them, and protected them. How long does it take us in our pain or in the perceived silence of God for us to turn away from him? How quickly do we turn back to our old ways of sin or our own strength and desires when we get impatient with God? How we handle God’s ordained delays is a good measure of our spiritual maturity. If we allow those delays to make us simply to take our eyes off Him, then we drift into sin. But if we allow such times to deepen our faith and strengthen our walk with God, then those times are of good use.
Granted, we don’t typically melt down our jewelry in idol worship but we can turn our hearts away just as easily. How can we consider this at play in our own culture then? How often do “churches” do worship that is only in spirit and not in truth? This is why we must be discerning about what we are taught and in what spirit we are worshiping. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul talks about the ability to discern false prophets and false teachings. He says, “For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” Satan, false prophets, and false teachers will disguise themselves as light. Satan wants the bad to appear to be good so that we will be all the more tempted by it. We are to therefore judge the spirit to see from where it came. John states in 1 John 4, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”
We see this discernment in the people of Berea when Paul came and preached the Gospel to them. They are praised for searching out to know if what Paul had taught was true. But they didn’t just sit around and think about it and decide based on their own feelings. The Bereans didn’t say, “Well, this just feels right to me.” Or “I had this great moment of experience and elation when I heard Paul talking so I’m going to follow what he says.” Not at all! We must then ask the question, “Based on what are we discerning?” In other words, in order to judge whether a line is straight or not, you must know the characteristics of a straight line. We only know when something is crooked because we have a concept of what straight is. Likewise, you can only judge whether or not something is from God if you know what things from God would be. We can’t judge based on our own concepts or ideals, we must judge them against something accurate, against some standard, to know whether it is from truth or not. So how did the Bereans do it? In Acts 17 it says they searched the Scriptures daily. They examined the Word of God every day to check it against what Paul was teaching. Keep in mind, at this point in time, the “Word of God” was only the Old Testament. They were doing that "boring drudgery" of studying God’s Word, reading the Scriptures, checking their doctrine, and assessing their theology. And they were called noble for doing it. That is why it is so important for us to do the same – studying God’s word, reading the Scriptures, checking your doctrine, and assessing your theology.
They were doing that diligent work to make sure they didn’t just seize upon some new teaching because it sounded nice, or made them feel good about themselves, or didn’t make them feel too guilty about their sins. They checked the Scriptures. They judged the Spirit in which Paul taught against the Spirit of God. And for that reason, it says that many of them believed. And that belief, I feel sure, was a confident belief that would not be swayed by persecution or doubt because they had rightly judged those teachings against the truth. And they saw that it was the truth.
In our culture, though, the whole idea of discernment and judgment has such a bad connotation. For some reason, saying you have “judged” something will get you labeled something not so nice. It’s as though our culture as declared that judging and being judgmental are the same thing, but they’re not. Judgmental is defined as “tending to judge people too quickly and critically.” But judging is defined as “forming an opinion through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises.” Those are two entirely different concepts. We have to judge things, and honestly we wouldn’t want to live in a culture that did not judge things. We judge things by examining the evidence and considering the facts. We make judgments like that every day – is that car going to stop at the intersection? Is this meat safe to eat? Is what this person telling me the truth? But in those judgments, we must know by what standard we are judging, what evidence and facts we are considering. In spiritual matters, it means we must have sound doctrine, theology, and Biblical understanding so that we too can rightly judge things against the Spirit and Word of God. Judging by your own feelings and opinions will not get you to the Bereans, it will get you to the golden calf. But judging according to the Word of God will strengthen your faith and ensure you are continuing to walk in the true light of God.
As we embark on a new year, many people will take stock of where they are in life and what their goals for the new year are. Some may make plans to finally use that gym membership or read one of those books that’s been sitting on the shelf for a while. Some may plan to quit a bad habit or to start a good habit. Some may decide to spend more time with family or make time to travel more. Whatever the goals for the new year may be, they are always in an effort to make an improvement, striving to better ourselves. So we ought to stop and ask ourselves: why? Why are we trying to better our lives? It goes straight to the heart of the meaning of life. We are trying to improve ourselves because we believe that life has meaning somehow. Otherwise, why bother trying to improve?
So where do we find this meaning in life that makes it worth improving? Trying to find that meaning of life and purpose for improvement can’t be done in the world defined by the atheist. Though the atheist may say they too can desire good things and strive to be a better person. But according to the atheist, we are just an accidental by-product of matter, chance, and time. There is no real reason or purpose in that. It says that we are only here because of pure blind luck so there's no real reason why should or should not exist. It says that all we have is this life now and nothing afterwards. All we face is death-nothing more. Is death truly all we have to live for? If there is no immortality there is no purpose. If there is no immortality, then live as you please in the moment; after all, what difference does it make? So yes, you can believe anything you want about eternity and still want to be a good persono and live a better life. The question is why would you bother if you didn't believe in eternity? Why would we still feel this innate compulsion to improve our lives, to live good and justly? It is because we are aware of an immortality whether we choose to believe in it or not. That immortality is necessary for life to be meaningful.
However, having immortality alone does not give us the significance that we seek. For an eternity of a useless and purposeless existence is torture. That explanation to our significance without the existence of God is terrifying and depressing. Mere duration of existence does not make that existence meaningful. If man could live forever but there were no God, man’s existence would still have no ultimate significance. So it’s not just immortality man needs for significance, he needs immortality and God. If there is no God, then life, even an eternal life, becomes meaningless.
See, modern man thought he was oh so clever to get rid of God because he thought he was finally free to do as he pleases. Man could live without being inhibited by God’s existence. But what he only succeeded in doing is creating a miserable and insignificant life for himself. Without God and without immortality, man’s life is absurd. William Lane Craig says, “One cannot live happily and consistently on an atheistic worldview. In order to be happy, one must believe in objective meaning, value, and purpose.” And you can’t have objective meaning, value, and purpose without the existence of God.
So while you are making your plans for a better life in 2017, remember what it is that gives that new and improved life purpose. And rejoice that we do have a God that gives our lives meaning and purpose as well as the opportunity to have an immortal life with Him, if we would only trust in His gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Chapter 5 of Teaching Others to Defend Christianity, explores the evidence that affirms the validity of the New Testament Scriptures giving us confidence that the Scriptures are true. (for your copy, go here). As believers though, we not only believe that they are true in an “honest reporting of the facts” way but as the inspired Word of God. That means it is unchangeable, immovable, final, perfect, and holy. This view of the Scriptures is often referred to as “verbal plenary” inspiration. That means the inspiration extends to the very words themselves —not just concepts or ideas—and that the inspiration extends to all parts of Scripture and all subject matters of Scripture. (2 Peter 1:21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.) Even though God used men with their distinctive personalities and writing styles, God divinely inspired the very words they wrote. In Matthew 5:17-18 Jesus reinforces the accuracy of the Scriptures down to the smallest detail and the slightest punctuation mark – because it is the very Word of God. And because God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and completely perfect, His Word will by its very nature have the same characteristics. The Word of God is both inerrant and authoritative.
In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Paul says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” So God inspired all Scripture; and all scripture is profitable to us. It is not just the parts of the Bible that deal with religious doctrines that are inspired, but each and every word, from Genesis to Revelation. Because it is inspired by God, the Scriptures are therefore authoritative when it comes to establishing doctrine, and sufficient for teaching man how to be in a right relationship with God. The Scriptures even have the supernatural ability to change us and make us “complete.” So we are to use the Word of God to teach us, to instruct us, to guide us, to equip us so that we can be complete. In John 17:1-3, Jesus says that eternal life (or salvation) is knowing God, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom God sent. How do we get to know God? By studying Him and His Word. By reading the very words He breathed out for us. If the Bible is true, God-breathed, and forming our decisions on everything in this life, then why would we not study what it says? This seems like a simple topic to cover. Yes, of course we should study the Bible. But how well are we doing it?
One common way people “study” the Bible is in daily devotional books. Those are usually intended to be read in at most 5 minutes. They usually have a short passage of verses, or maybe sometimes one verse; and then give a short personal story of how those verses were applied to some situation. There is nothing wrong with this approach in itself, but if this is the only thing you are doing, how well are you really learning the Word of God? Do you have any idea how those verses are read in context? Have you actually learned about why God gave us those words and what was happening to the person when those words were written? Or did you just get some fluffy story about how those words were applied to someone’s personal situation? Now, this method could be valuable if it is supplementing actual scripture study but this should not be the only thing you are doing.
I understand we all like the idea of only taking 5 minutes to do our devotion but consider what that says about our priorities. We’ll spend hours each day on Facebook/Twitter, video games, TV, hanging out with our friends, or surfing the internet, but we only want to give at most 5 minutes to the God and Creator of the universe. Spending only five minutes a day in the Word, especially when most of that time is reading some else’s interpretation of that Word, does not really implant the Scriptures in our hearts. Psalm 119:11 says that we are to hide His word in our hearts so that we might not sin against God. Does this approach to reading His Word actually serve to hide it in our hearts? To write God’s words on our hearts, we must understand them – and understand them in context – to really have them change our daily lives. We see this concept for anything else we do. If you only spent 5 minutes a day exercising, can it really change your body type? If you only spent 5 minutes a day practicing your instrument, could you really ever advance in the complexity of music you can play? So to really have God’s Words stored in our hearts and transforming our minds, we must spend more time studying the Bible. The 5-minutes devotion may allow you to memorize a few verse here and there to spout off but it’s not hidden in your hearts. You haven’t learned the full depth of what God gave us. And think of all the verses YOU miss out on. Some of the most meaningful passages may come from those other verses that aren’t highlighted in a 5-minute devotion. It may come from your own study of the scriptures themselves in their fullness.
Another common method is the read through the Bible in a year studies. But let’s be honest; none of us usually make it all the way through December with the plan. But think about how much you’re studying the Bible with this method. You read about 10 verses in one book then a few random verses from Psalms or Proverbs. How much context and digestion do you really get that way? Do you know why that Psalm was written? Do you understand the historical context of that passage from 1 Kings? And usually it is still geared for just a 5 minute study a day. This can be done in a profitable way but I at least find myself just reading them to check off the list for that day’s assignment instead of really studying and thinking over those passages.
So what is the best way to do this? Plan a study time. Yes this may mean losing 20 minutes of sleep to get up a little earlier to spend time in God’s word – to really study God’s word. But it is so worth it! And isn’t that what we should PREFER to do?? We should rather study the Word given to us by God than watch another mindless sitcom on TV. And I promise, the more you are in the Word, the more you’ll want to be in the Word. Yes, it’s hard to commit to this. And there will be some days you won’t. But let’s set a goal here to work towards actually growing in right understanding of God’s word.
And then plan on reading the Bible itself. So often we read books about the Bible but never actually read the Bible. Get a Study Bible that will help you with explanations, introductions, outlines of the text, cross-references, and notes. Notes will help you with dates, places, and expanded definitions of words. They’ll also have maps and a topical index. The Bible is recording the real history of real people, events, and places. Seeing that in context helps the Bible come to life for you. Use the maps and notes to see where these people were living and what they were doing when these things happened. It reveals the hand of God is a much more amazing way. You could even get a topical Bible that organizes Scripture based on a special area of interest, like prayer, marriage, or salvation. Bible dictionaries, timelines, maps, and atlases can help too. There are also commentary books for every book in the Bible. Those are entire books dedicated to expounding on the text found within one book in the Bible. I have found the most fruitful way to study the Bible is using those commentary books. It’s a good idea to have more than one commentary too – not all theologians agree on certain passages.
I’ve found that once I can put a book of the Bible in context, in a time of history, I have a deeper appreciation for God’s Word and God's Sovereignty. The 5-minute devotionals left me with this shallow feeling, like I wasn’t really learning anything new– and I think for good reason. Because it is shallow. And it is the same fluff lesson that could probably be applied to anything. How can we be fulfilled with God’s word in only 5 minutes with just some watered-down application of a random few verses? How can you really even effectively apply those random few verses to your situation if you have no greater context? No appreciation for the author or the setting? The quote “et tu, Brute?” only has impact when we understand the characters and the context and what was at stake. We can’t live out the Scriptures and appreciate our doctrine and know to stand on it in face of persecution, scoffing, and criticism if we don’t understand the characters and the context and what is at stake. How can we defend God’s word to the world if we don’t truly know what it says? How can we answer criticisms about God’s character from certain passages if we don’t understand it in context; if we’ve only read a random selection of verses scattered across the Bible?
So think seriously about how you approach reading God’s word. Again, I promise the more you are in it the more you will want to be. If you only dabble in enough Bible reading to fill a few minutes each week, then you’ll never feed your soul or move from the milk of babies to the steak of the mature walk. I think no matter how much or little you know about the Bible, we all know enough to stand in awe of the strength of faith of men like Paul, and David, and Abraham. But they had that strength of faith because they were daily committed to knowing God. We can’t just sit back and wish we had that yet do nothing different in our daily life to make that happen. If you never spend time with God, then how could you ever live a life like Daniel or Paul or Peter? If you never study His Word, how can you ever know Him? We study the Bible to know God; to enjoy and love God; to understand His commands; to learn direction in life; to find comfort and hope; to let God expose our innermost thoughts and desires; to become pure and holy; to obey the Great Commandment: to love God with all of our being.
How do you study the Bible? Let me know in the comments below. And here are some tips I've found helpful as well...
Many people question the validity of the Bible because of the accounts found in the Old Testament. Honestly, it was on that point, that someone first really challenged my faith. I’m sure you’ve heard questions coming from the same point of skepticism. How can you believe Jonah was really swallowed by a whale? Did Moses really meet God in a burning bush? Did God really create everything in six 24-hour days? Those are certainly valid questions, particularly for an unbeliever to ask. However, there are many things in the Scriptures that unbeliever will not understand, as Paul tells us in two of his letters to the Corinthians.
But where I struggle when I encounter this disbelief in Old Testament occurrences is when it comes from a believer, someone who already believes in the supernatural and accepts the Scriptures as being the inspired Word of God. There is a real issue when a believer still wonders how Jonah survived in the whale, how Noah built the ark, and whether Adam really could name all the animals. It seems they want to find a naturalistic explanation to those things. And that usually results in their searching for some “new” understanding of Scripture. Or they just decide to only believe in the New Testament and the life about Jesus and the church, as if you can separate the two. But Jesus said Himself that He came not to abolish the law or the prophets but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). If He is here to fulfill something, then that something must be a real thing. Jesus fulfilled the law given to Moses and He fulfilled the prophecies given by the prophets. Therefore, if you begin to unravel the reality of Moses, the Prophets, and the rest of the Old Testament, you start to unravel part of the identity and purpose of Jesus. You cannot separate the Old Testament from the New Testament.
So why is it that the believer may struggle with the Old Testament accounts? If we truly believe in the virgin birth of Christ, that Lazarus was raised from the dead, and Zacharias was mute for 9 months, why do we doubt the accounts of Jonah, and Daniel, and Noah? If Jesus could change water into wine, calm a storm with a word, and walk on water, why can He not create according to Genesis? If we as believers do have such confidence in the New Testament, then maybe we should consider what the New Testament has to say about the Old Testament.
The author of Hebrews describes how God made this universe and everything in it out of nothing, ex nihilo (Hebrews 11:3 “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.”) which takes us to the opening line of the Bible; that in the beginning God created everything. Then in the genealogy of Jesus, Luke lists Adam as the first man created, describing him as the “son of God” (Luke 3:23-28). Jude, the half-brother of Jesus, in his book uses Adam as a reference point in the genealogy of Enoch. Both of these men saw Adam as a real historical person, the first man created by God from whom all others descended, including Jesus.
Throughout many of Paul’s writing, Paul refers to Jesus as the “second Adam,” which only makes sense if there were a “first Adam.” In 1 Corinthians 15:45, Paul writes, “And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.’” He is referring to a literal person of Adam as the first man and the literal person of Jesus as the life-giving spirit, or the last Adam. He says again in his first letter to Timothy, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” Why would Paul say all of this if Adam and Eve were not literal, physical people formed in the beginning according to Genesis? He explains it more fully in Romans 5:12-19:
Even John the apostle in 1 John 3 reaffirms Adam and Eve by discussing the sin brought in the next generation. He discusses the sin of Cain when he murdered his brother. He is discussing it as a real historical event found in Genesis 4. If we accept that Paul, Luke, John, and Jude were writing words inspired by God and that they had apostolic authority to preach the truth of Jesus Christ and provide sound doctrine for us to follow, then we must accept their teachings of Adam and Eve as literal, physical beings that were the first male and female specifically created by God. This ought to rule out any origins theory that includes any of type of evolutionary progression of man – whether it’s from apes or just from a Neanderthal pre-historic semblance of man. If you’re struggling with that because it came from Paul, Luke, John, and Jude then consider what Jesus Himself says about the creation of man and woman.
Jesus even talks about the account of Cain and Abel. Matthew 23:34-35 “And Jesus said, ‘Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.’” You can read the same account in Luke 11:49-51. And the event is affirmed again in Hebrews 11 and 1 John 3.
Jesus affirms the account of Jonah. Matthew 12:39-41 “But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.’” This can be found in Luke 11:29-32 as well. He says in Luke, “For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation…The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.”
In the book of Mark, Jesus upholds the prophecies of Daniel. In Mark 13:14 Jesus says, “So when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not” (let the reader understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” And he refers to the life of David as he is fleeing from the rage of Saul, “But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?” (Mark 2:25-26).
What about Noah and the ark? Did the flood really destroy things and was it really over the whole earth? First, take a look at what it says in Genesis 7: And the waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth, and all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered. And all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man. All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on the dry land, died. So He destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground: both man and cattle, creeping thing and bird of the air. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained alive.
It says repeatedly that “all” things were destroyed, “every” thing that had breath, “all” living things so that “only” Noah and those on the ark remained alive. That seems pretty clear to me that the intent of the flood was to literally destroy everything that was not on the ark. Of course that’s the Old Testament description. What does the New Testament say? Jesus said in Matthew 24:37-39, “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” Jesus used the flood of Noah to compare to the Second Coming. Do you think some will be spared in the Second Coming? Or that only a portion of the world will be aware of the Second Coming? Jesus is using the analogy because both the flood and the Second Coming will be global and will affect all living things. Jesus said that the flood took “all” of them away just like the coming of the Son of Man will do. The same comparison is used in 2 Peter 3:1-7. Peter says in the days of Noah that “the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.” Peter also says in 1 Peter 3:18-20 that only “eight souls” were saved through water, meaning all other souls perished who were no on the ark. And he affirms again in 2 Peter 2:4-10 not only the global judgment of Noah, where only Noah, “one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness” was saved, but also the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, “condemned to destruction” where God only “delivered righteous Lot.”
All of these people and their real histories are recorded first in the Old Testament, honored for their faith in Hebrews 11, spoken of by Paul and Peter in the founding of the early churches, and most importantly, reaffirmed by Jesus in the New Testament. Why do we struggle then with believing what is written to us from the Old Testament? I know in the church now, this is not considered the “popular” belief. But are we called to base our doctrine on what is popular or on what is in God’s word? If we believe as fact that the virgin Mary gave birth, Jesus cast out demons, and Peter made a lame man walk, then why can we not believe that God parted the Red Sea through Moses, He conquered Jericho through Joshua marching around the city, He took down Goliath through David’s slingshot, He judged the sinful world saving only the righteous through Noah, and He spoke every living thing into being out of nothing, uniquely made reproducing each according to their kind, and that He formed man from the dust of the ground in His own likeness and image and breathed life into him. In Martin Luther’s day, the church compromised what the Bible clearly taught. So he nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the church to call them back to the authority of God’s Word. In the same way, the church today has, by and large, neglected what the Bible clearly says in the Old Testament. It’s time to call the church back to the authority of God’s Word, beginning with Genesis 1.